ICYMI: Homeland Subcommittee Hears Testimony from FEMA, SBA, State Officials on Emergency Coordination in Coastal Communities
November 29, 2023
NEW ORLEANS, LA— Yesterday, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology, led by Chairman Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY), held a field hearing to examine coastal communities’ current coordination with the federal government, evaluate improvements to that coordination, and address state and local emergency management responsibilities. Witnesses included Tony Robinson, Region 6 administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); Fransisco Sánchez, associate administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA)’s Office of Disaster Recovery and Resilience; Casey Tingle, director of Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP); and Pamela Gonzales Granger, president and owner of McBade Engineers and Consultants, LLC.
In this hearing, witnesses detailed how to improve local, state, and federal coordination, the roadblocks communities face when trying to access state or federal assistance, and the current implementation of grants in coastal communities for infrastructure improvement.
In his opening line of questioning, Chairman D’Esposito asked the witnesses about improvements in emergency management needed at the federal level:
“What can we do better as members of Congress, what can we do better as the federal government…to make sure that even the smallest communities are getting the information they need to be provided the resources to, really, help them survive?”
FEMA Region Six Administrator Tony Robinson answered:
“I think your point on coordination and collaboration is key. We need to build up that relationship before the event and emergency management. And so, for Region 6, we work very closely with all of our partners at the federal and state level, and I think the thing we’ve really focused [on] these last couple of years is who the influences are in these local communities. So those faith-based organizations, those organizations that really have that grassroot connection that can get that information out to individuals.”
SBA Associate Administrator Sanchez emphasized:
“I think the coordination piece is critical. There’s three ways we look at it from our perspective: coordinate, collaborate, and communicate. How do we coordinate with state, local, and federal partners? How do we communicate all that information? How do we collaborate on the solutions that make sense for a community? We are opening access to governors so they can make more disaster declarations, but we are leading from the ground up with local communities, making sure that when we go on the ground, we’re learning from those local chambers, local organizations making sure that we are going where they are. So, all the data-driven decisions we make, [we] also go into local communities for context to ensure that we are where we need to be, that our programs make it into the communities that need it, but that everyone is aware of that, as well.”
Louisiana GOHSEP Director Casey Tingle added:
“In your role in particular, there is a balance between appropriate oversight and ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately. Certainly we all support that, but how you do that through policy and legislation, oftentimes ends up that we spend more money trying to manage the dollar than we are actually implementing…I would just say that as we create legislation, as we review policies in the Stafford Act and other places, the ability to reduce complexity—there is only so much technical assistance that we can provide to communities if the barrier to those programs and the level of sophistication and experience that you have to have to navigate them is in many cases a turn off to communities. They’re afraid of accessing, they’re afraid of getting something wrong, they’re afraid of a claw back on the backside of doing something. And so, I would just advocate strongly for balancing that oversight component with, is the complexity we are including to get that oversight also costing us money, and the opportunity cost that communities are not accessing these programs because they are afraid of that complexity?”
Chairman D’Esposito inquired as to how effectively existing grants are being implemented at the local level:
“Have you seen in Louisiana that [$2.5 billion in projects to protect people and property from natural disaster] is being used the right way, and are people, are the local municipalities, making changes to their building codes, their floodplain management? Are they making the necessary changes to see that this money is being used correctly to prepare us for the future?”
Mr. Tingle replied:
“Yes…The level of engagement at the local level to pursue these mitigation programs, execute these mitigation programs, the patience and the persistence that it takes; that is true across Louisiana. I am proud of those local partners and all the work they do and interfacing both with homeowners and property owners, as well as doing community-based projects. So, in terms of where we’ve progressed to, that’s one of the changes.”